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General Principles of Classification and Nomenclature in Folk Biology

Author(s): Brent Berlin, Dennis E. Breedlove and Peter H. Raven


Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Feb., 1973), pp. 214-242
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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General Principles of Classification and Nomenclature


in Folk Biology
BRENTBERLIN
University of California, Berkeley

DENNISE. BREEDLOVE
California Academy of Sciences

PETERH. RAVEN
Missouri Botanical Garden

Since about 1954, modern field research has been carried out by a number of
ethnographers and biologists in an effort to understand more fully the nature of
folk biological classification. Much of this work has been devoted to studies dealing
with the naming and classification of plants and animals in non-Western societies. It
has now become apparent that several important and far reaching generalizations
can be formulated which promise to throw considerable light on prescientific man's
understanding of his biological universe.

THESTUDYof man'sconceptualization man's conceptualorganizationof the natural


of his natural and social environmentshas
always been a major concern for ethnography. Surely, one of ethnography's
major contributionsto social science theory
has been the systematic revelation of man,
the classifyinganimal.However,the richness
and diversity of man's variantclassifications
of experience have often led ethnographers
to emphasize the differences between culturalsystems of knowledgeat the expense of
noting what may be equally revealingsimilarities.
In the last several years, a number of
scholars have become involved in the detailed study of folk biosystematics, prescientific man's classification of his biological universe. From this work, it has become
apparentthat, while individualsocieties may
differ considerably in their conceptualization of plants and animals, there are a
number of strikingly regular structural
principles of folk biological classification
which are quite general. If the patterns
which have been observed continue to be
confirmed by further research,their study
promises to reveal important aspects of

world.
Here, we present evidence in support of
several hypotheses which deal with various
aspects of folk biological classification and
nomenclature. The number of societies
which have been studied in sufficient detail
so as to allow one to make comparative
inferencesis small. Nonetheless,we feel that
the data that have been collected to this
point are sufficiently clear as to merit their
presentationat this time.
These principles can be summarized as
follows:
(1) In all languages it is possible to
isolate linguisticallyrecognizedgroupingsof
organisms of varying degrees of inclusiveness. These classes are referred to here as
taxa and can be illustratedby the groupings
of organisms indicated by the names oak,
vine, plant, red-headed woodpecker, etc., in

English.
(2) Taxa are furthergroupedinto a small
number of classes known as taxonomic ethnobiological categories. These ethnobiological categories,definablein termsof linguistic
and taxonomic criteria,probablynumberno

214

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

more than five. They may be named as


follows: unique beginner,life form, generic,
specific, and varietal. A sixth category,
called intermediate, may be required as
further research is carried out on ethnobiologicalclassification.
(3) The five universal ethnobiological
categories are arranged hierarchically and
taxa assigned to each rank are mutually
exclusive, except for the unique beginnerof
which there is only one member.
(4) Taxa of the same ethnobiological
category characteristically,though not invariably, occur at the same taxonomic level
within any particulartaxonomic structure.'
The taxon which is a member of the category unique beginner occurs at level zero.
Life form taxa occur only at level one.
Generictaxa characteristicallyoccur at level
two, but if not, always occur at level one.
Specific taxa characteristicallyoccur at level
three, but if not, always occur at level two
and are immediately included in a generic
taxon which occurs at level one. Varietal
taxa, if present, characteristicallyoccur at
level four, but if not, at level three and in
this case can be shown ultimately to be
includedin a genericthat occurs at level one.
The relationshipof these proposedethnobiological taxonomic categories and their

215

relative taxonomic levels in any particular


taxonomic structure can be seen in the
idealizedschematicdiagramin Figure 1.
Taxa assignedto each of the fundamental
ethnobiological categories characteristically
exhibit linguistic and/or taxonomic features
which allow for their recognition. In addition to what has already been said, the
following general tendencies should be
noted:
(5) In folk taxonomies it is quite common that the taxon found as a memberof
the category unique beginneris not labelled
linguisticallyby a single habitualexpression.
That is, the most inclusive taxon, e.g., plant
or animal,is rarelynamed.
(6) Taxa which are membersof the ethnobiological category "life form" are invariablyfew in number,rangingfrom five to
ten, and amongthem include the majorityof
all named taxa of lesser rank. All life form
taxa are polytypic. Life form taxa are labelled by linguistic expressions which are
lexically analyzed as primary lexemes and
may be illustrated by the classes named by
such words as tree, vine, bird, grass, mammal, etc.
(7) In typical folk taxonomies, taxa
which are members of the ethnobiological
category "generic"are much more numerous

Level 0

UB

Level 1

If2. .

If

Ifn

g2

. . .

g
i...

Level 2

g4 95

g3

Level 3

S2

s4--...

96..

gn Sl

gm

S2 S3

AUB

Sm

Sn

S4. ..Si

= Unique
beginner
If

e
Level 4

v1

v2

A,

= life form

= generic
As
vm

vn

= specific

= varietal

Figure1. Schematicrelationshipof the five universalethnobiologicaltaxonomic categories


and their relativehierarchiclevels in an idealizedfolk taxonomy.

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216

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

than life form taxa but are nonetheless


finite, rangingin the neighborhood of 500
classes.
Most generic taxa are immediately included in one of the few life form taxa. It is
not uncommon to find, however, a number
of classes of generic rankwhich are aberrant
(in terms of the defining features of the life
form taxa) and, as such, are conceptually
seen as unaffiliated (i.e., are not includedin
one of the life forms). Aberrancymay be
due to a number of factors but morphological conspicuousnessand/or economic importance appear to be the primary reasons
involved.
Folk generic taxa may be recognized in
terms of several criteria, one of the most
important of which is nomenclatural. In
general, generic names are labelled by
primary lexemes. Examples of typical
(versusaberrant)generic taxa are the classes
named by the words oak, pine, catfish,
perch, robin, etc. Examples of generic taxa
that often are considered unique are those
indicated by the names cactus, bamboo,
pineapple, cassowary, pangolin, platypus,
etc.
Finally, as will be shown below, generic
taxa are the basic building blocks of all folk
taxonomies. They represent the most commonly referredto groupingsof organismsin
the naturalenvironment,are the most salient
psychologically and are likely to be among
the first taxa learnedby the child (see Stross
1969 and n.d.).
(8) Taxa which are membersof the ethnobiological categories "specific" and
"varietal"are, in general,less numerousthan
taxa found as membersof the generic category. Specific and varietal taxa characteristically occur in contrast sets2 of few members, the most frequent being a set of two
classes. Contrast sets of more than two
memberstend to refer to organismsof major
culturalimportanceand largersets of twenty
or more taxa invariably do. Varietal taxa
(i.e., further divisions of specific taxa) are
rare in most folk biological taxonomies.
Finally,specific and varietaltaxa are normally distinguishedin terms of featureson few,

[75,1973

if not a single, semantic dimension, e.g.,


red rose versus white rose.

Both specific and varietal taxa are linguistically recognized in that they are most
commonly labelled by secondary (versus
primary, for life forms and generics)
lexemes. Examples of specific taxa are the
classesnamedby the secondarylexemes blue
spruce, white fir, post oak. Examples of
varietal taxa are the classes labelled by the
names baby lima bean and butter lima bean.

(9) Intermediate taxa are those classes


which can be assignedto the ethnobiological
category "intermediate."Taxonomically,an
intermediate taxon is one which is immediately included in one of the major life
form taxa and which immediately includes
taxa of generic rank. We have found such
taxa to be invariably rare in natural folk
taxonomies, and, when evidence has been
presented which unambiguously demonstrates their existence (see Berlin,Breedlove,
and Raven 1968) the classes are not linguistically labelled. As a consequence, we have
referred to such classes as covert categories.
The rarity of intermediate taxa in folk
taxonomies, but more importantly, the fact
that they are not named, leads us to doubt
whether one is empiricallyjustified in establishing an absolute ethnobiologicalcategory
for taxa of this rank. The question can only
be resolvedby furtherresearch.
NAMESFOR PLANTSAND ANIMALS
In this section we will discuss the relationship of the formal linguisticstructureof
plant and animal names and the cognitive
status of the taxa to which such names
apply. While no isomorphiccorrespondence
is claimed to exist between nomenclature
(i.e., names given to classes of plants and
animals)and classification(i.e., the cognitive
relationships that hold between classes of
plants and animals), the overwhelmingbody
of evidence now in hand suggests that
nomenclatureis often a nearperfect guide to
folk taxonomic structure. Furthermore,
when nomenclaturefails to mirroraccurately the taxonomic status of a particularbiol-

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AND NOMENCLATURE
Berlinet al.] FOLKBIOLOGY:CLASSIFICATION
ogical class, it can usually be shown that the
class in question is undergoing semantic
change.
In all ethnobiological lexicons, one may
distinguishtwo types of namesfor classesof
plants and animals. One class comprises
forms which are, for the most part, unique,
"single word" expressions which can be
shown to be semantically unitary and linguistically distinct. Examples of such
semantically unitary names in English folk
biology might be oak, pine, maple, rabbit,
quail, and bass. A second group of expressions comprises membersof the first class in
variously modified form, e.g., post oak,
ponderosa pine, sugar maple, cottontail
rabbit, blue quail, and large-mouth bass.
Psychologically, examples from the first
class of terms seem to be more basic or
salient than those of the second in much the
same sense that the color terms red, yellow,
and green are more basic than pale red,
yellowish, and bluish green. It will be useful
to refer to members of the first set as
primarylexemes and to those of the second
as secondarylexemes.
Types of PrimaryLexemes
Primarylexemes can be further analyzed
semantically.Some are clearly simple expressions which are unanalyzablelinguistically,
such as oak andpine. Otherprimarylexemes
are linguistically analyzable and can be
illustrated by such expressions as beggartick, jack-in-the-pulpit,planetree, tuliptree,
pipevine, Rocky Mountainbee plant, catfish,
bluebird,swordfish, and many others.
Analyzable primary lexemes can be
divided easily into two obvious classes. One
group, comprisingforms such as planetree,
tuliptree, pipevine, etc., are distinguishable
in that one of the constituents of each
expression indicates a category superordinate to that of the form in question,
e.g., tuliptree is a kind of tree,planetree is a
kind of tree, pipevine is a kind of vine, and
so on. These expressions are productive
primarylexemes.

217

A second group,comprisingforms such as


beggar-tick, jack-in-the-pulpit, hens-and
chickens, is distinguishablein that no constituent marks a category superordinateto
the forms in question. Thus, beggar-tickis
not a kind of tick, jack-in-the-pulpithas
little to do with either jack or pulpits,
hens-and-chickensdoes not refer to poultry.
These expressionsare unproductiveprimary
lexemes.
SecondaryLexemes
Secondary lexemes, like productive
primaryforms, are identifiablein that one of
the constituents of such expressions indicates a category superordinateto the form
in question, e.g., jack oak (a kind of oak),
Orientalplanetree (a kind of planetree), blue
spruce (a kind of spruce). On the other
hand,secondarylexemes differ from productive primary expressions in that the former
occur only in contrast sets, all of whose
members are labelled by secondary lexemes
which share the same superordinate constituent. Thus, jack oak is unambiguouslya
secondary lexeme in that (a) one of its
constituents, oak, labels a taxon which is its
immediate superordinate(OAK), and (b) it
occurs in a contrast set of whose members
are also labelled by secondarylexemes which
include a constituent that labels the taxon
oak (i.e., post oak, scrub oak, blue oak,
etc.).
Productive primary lexemes such as
planetree, tuliptree, and leadtree, however,
occur as membersof contrast sets of which
some members are labelled by expressions
such as maple, walnut,elm, etc.3
The relationship between these various
types of lexemes may be seen as follows4
(see Figure2).
Ethnobiological Nomenclature and Folk
Taxonomy
In work done thus far on ethnosystematics, it seems likely that the vast
majority of primary lexemes, as defined in
the discussion above, refer to biologically

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218

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

[75,1973
(unanalyzable)
oak
pine
tree
maple

primary
productive
planetree
pipevine
leadtree
crabgrass
lexeme
type

(analyzable)
unproductive
begger-tick
cat-tail
poison oak
jack-in-the-pulpit
secondary
jack oak
Oriental planetree
swamp beggar-tick
white pine
blue spruce

Figure 2. Analysisof lexemes by lexemic type.


natural groupingsof organismsthat can be
referred to as folk genera. A much smaller
number of primary lexemes refer to groupings larger than folk genera and appear to
label such higher order taxa as tree, bush,
vine, grass, fish, bird, snake, "land mammal," and the like. Such groupingscan be
referred to as life forms. In some naturally
occurring biotaxonomies, the complete set
of organisms being classified may be recognized conceptually and referred to by a
primarylexeme, e.g., plant or animal. An all
inclusivenamedcategoryof this sort, though
rare in most systems we know of, would be
known as the unique beginner.
In contrast to the kinds of taxa marked
by primary lexemes, secondary lexemes
generally label classes of organismsof lesser
inclusivenessthan either folk genera or life
forms. Such groupingscould be called folk
species and, more rarely, folk varieties,
depending on the degree of specification
indicatedlinguistically.
The relationship between these conceptual categoriesand the names by which they

are referred can be stated as a set of four


general nomenclaturalprinciples which are
subject to verification and modification by
further research. In any folk taxonomy of
plantsand animals:
(1) Some taxa marked by primary
lexemes are terminals or immediately include taxa designatedby secondarylexemes.
Taxa satisfying these conditions are generic;
their labelsare genericnames.
(2) Some taxa6 marked by primarylexemes are not terminal and immediately include taxa designated by primarylexemes.
Taxa satisfying these conditions refer to life
form categories; their labels are life form
names.
(3) Some taxa marked by secondary
lexemes are terminal and are immediately
included in taxa designatedby primarylexemes. Taxa satisfying these conditions are
specific;their labelsare specific names.
(4) Some taxa marked by secondary
lexemes are terminal and are immediately
included in taxa which are designatedas well
by secondarylexemes. Taxa satisfying these

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

conditions are varietal; their labels, varietal


names.
In the following sections we will show the
applicability of these nomenclatural principles to the descriptionof the plant names
of the Tzeltal, a swidden agriculturalMayan
people with whom we have been working
intensively for severalyears, and for which a
monographic treatment will appear shortly
(Berlin, Breedlove,and Raven n.d.). Further
on we will presentanalogouslinguisticmaterials from other languageswhich lend support to the claim that these principleshave
widespreadapplication.

219

animal class dog'), and names for human


beings occur with the classifier tul (e.g.,
can-tul winik 'four members of the human
class men').
On both botanical and linguisticgrounds,
then, the plant domain for the Tzeltal,
though not namedas such, is unambiguously
boundedand distinctly defined.
Life Form Taxa and Life Form Names

In the Tzeltal conception of the plant


world, four major life form categories are
unique in that, between them, they include
at least seventy-five percent of all other
plant taxa. Each of these four categoriesis
TZELTALPLANTTAXONOMY
labelled
by a simple primarylexeme. These
AND NOMENCLATURAL
RULES
major plant class names refer to the most
With the exception of all fungi, lichens, obvious andwidespreadlife forms that plants
can assume, namely 'trees' te , 'vines' 9ak',
algae, and the like, the boundaries of the
9ak, and 'broad-leafed herbaceous
domain of plants as conceived by the Tzeltal 'grasses'
shrubs' wamal.
correspondsalmost perfectly with the standard plant division of Western systematic
Generic Taxa and Generic Names
botany.
The domain as a conceptual class, howAt this time, a total of 471 mutually
ever, is not marked by a habitual linguistic
expression comparableto the English term exclusive generic taxa have been established
plant. Nonetheless, there are numerous ex- as legitimate Tzeltal plant groupings.Of the
pressions which may be utilized to contrast total 471 genericclasses, 356 are immediateany one member of the plant world with a ly included in one of the four life form catememberof some other domain, for example, gories, te2, ?ak', ?ak, or wamal. Some ninetyanimals. Characteristically, plants "don't seven generic forms, about twenty percent,
move" ma knihik, while animals do; plants are not included in any of the four life form
"don't walk" ma sbenik, while animals do; taxa and are thought of by the Tzeltal as
plants are "planted in the earth" Pay unaffiliatedgenerics.Plants conceived as unc'unulik ta lum or "possess roots" 9ay yisi- affiliated are almost without exception culmik, clearly features not characteristic of tivated and/or morphologically peculiar in
animals.
some fashion. Examples are 9iim 'corn',
On more formal linguistic grounds,plant Eenek''bean', halal 'bamboo',and Ei'agave'.
names uniquely occur with the numeral Finally, a residue of some eighteen generic
classifiertehk. Numeralclassifiersare obliga- taxa, approximatelyfive percent are ambigutory expressions which must be used when ous in that they exhibit characteristicsof
counting certain objects in Tzeltal (see two (or, rarely, three) life form classes, i.e.,
Berlin 1968). Thus, "three trees" would be they fall on the boundaries of the major
stated as 9os-tehk te ~'three members of the
classes.
The distributionof the inventory of 471
plant class tree'. Animalnames,on the other
hand, occur with the numeralclassifierkoht generic taxa over these six categoriescan be
(e.g., 'oq-koht c'iP 'three members of the seen below.

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220

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST
Number of
Generic Taxa

Category
te 9 'trees'

178
119

wamal 'herbs'
2ak 'grasses'

35

2ak' vines'

24

unaffiliated taxa

97

ambiguous taxa

18

Total

471

Some ninety-one of the 471 generic taxa


are labelled by expressions that can be
shown to be of recent origin, i.e., are loan

[75,1973

words or loan expressions primarily from


Spanish. All of the remaining 380 taxa are
labelled by native Tzeltal expressions which
can be analyzed linguistically as primary
lexemes. 101 taxa are labelled by simple
primary lexemes, 125 by unproductive
primary lexemes, and 154 by productive
primary expressions. Examples of generic
names exhibiting these various lexical types
can be seen in Table I.
Most generic plant taxa in Tzeltal ethnosystematics are monotypic, i.e., are terminal
taxa marked by primary lexemes which include no other named categories. Our data
now indicate that of the total inventory of
471 named generic taxa (including those

TABLE I. EXAMPLES OF TZELTAL GENERIC NAMES


ILLUSTRATING THE THREE LEXICAL TYPES OF PRIMARY LEXEMES

Simple Primary
eon, avocado (Persea americana, P. donnell-smithii)
PiM,chili pepper (Capsicum pubescens, C. annuum)
siban, dogwood (Cornus excelsa)
tok'oy, willow (Salix bonplandiana)
tah, pine (Pinus spp., Abies sp.)
Unproductive Primary
cis 6auk, meadow rue (Thalictrum guatemalense) < cis 'fart', + 6auk, thunder lit.,
"thunder fart"
c'inte-, manioc (Manihot esculenta) < c'in unanalyzable constituent + te-, tree, lit.,
"c'in tree" [but not a kind of tree].
balam k'in, wild sunflower (Polymnia maculata) < balam, jaguar; k'in, day, lit.,
"jaguar day"
cic -ak [no common name] (Tagetes spp.) < cic, kind of avocado + ?ak, grass, lit.,
avocado grass [but not a kind of grass] .
yilim -ahaw, wax calla (Anthurium spp.) < y-iilim, its corn + -ahaw, kind of snake,
lit., "snake's corn"
Productive Primary
mes tee, coyote bush (Baccharis vaccinioides) < mes, broom + te-, tree, lit., "broom
tree"
kul ?ak' greenbriar (Smilax spp.) < kul unanalyzable constituent + zak', vine, lit.,
"kul vine"
6itam -ak, kind of grass (Muhlenbergia macroura) < itam, pig + zak, grass, lit.,
"pig grass"
k'an 6u0 wamal, spurge (Euphorbia graminea) < k'an, to want it, to resemble it +
6u0, woman's breast + wamal, herb, lit., "resembles-woman's-breast herb"
[due, perhaps, to white sappy milk exuded from broken stems of plant].
Eihil tee, elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) < Mihilunanalyzable constituent + tee,
tree, lit., 'Wihil-tree'

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

221

TABLE II. EXAMPLES OF TZELTAL SPECIFIC NAMES


ANALYZABLE AS SECONDARY LEXEMES

generic names

specific names
sakil ahatez white white sapote
Casimiroa edulis
k 'anal zahatez yellow white sapote
Casimiroa edulis

zahatez
white sapote

celum -ahatez elongated white sapote


Casimiroa edulis
sakil sc'ul white amaranth
Amaranthus hybridus
cahal sc'ul red amaranth
Amaranthus cruentus
c'is sc'ul spiny amaranth
Amaranthus spinosus

sc'ul
amaranth

pehtak

sakil pehtak white prickly pear


Opuntia sp.

prickly pear

cahal pehtak red prickly pear


Opuntia sp.

specific taxa. There are 239 such taxa in our


inventoryat present.
With the exception of several rare instances, the names for such specific taxa are
all linguisticallyanalyzed as secondary lexemes. The general nomenclatural rule in
Tzeltal specific name formationis to modify
the generic name involved with a single
attributivizing expression. The resulting
form is logicallycomparableto the Linnaean
binomial.
Examples of specific names exhibiting
this binomialstructurecan be seen in Table
II.
At the present time, we have found only
four specific taxa which are further subdivided into varietals. Three classes refer to
highly important cultigens. The first two are
types of beans (cenek');the third is a type of
banana (lo bal). A fourth is limited to one
Specific Taxa and Specific Names
of the classes of tree legumes. As might be
As already noted, seventy-three Tzeltal expected, varietal names are formed by the
generic classes are partitioned into two or modification of the specific name through
more smaller taxa which we will refer to as the addition of an attributive. An example
labelled by loan words), 398, or eighty-five
percent are monotypic. The remaining
seventy-threegenerictaxa, or fifteen percent,
are polytypic including from two to seventeen namedspecific classes.
Furthermore,our research indicates that
generic taxa form the basic core of Tzeltal
plant taxonomy. The names for such fundamental categories are those most readily
elicited from Tzeltal informants and most
easily recalled by them, suggestingthat they
are highly salient psychologically. There is
evidence from the investigations of Stross
(1968 and n.d.) that generic names are
learned quite early in the acquisition of
botanical terminology by the Tzeltal child, a
finding which can be taken as an independent measure of psychological importance.

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222

AMERICANANTHROPOLOGIST

can be seen in the division of the generic


cenek' 'bean'. Beans are divided into seventeen specific taxa, one of which is flumil
cenek' 'common bean' (Phaseolus vulgaris).
This specific taxon is further partitioned
into the two color variants cahal ilumil
cenek' 'red common bean' and Pihk'alilumil
cenek''black common bean'.
No plant names in Tzeltal ethnobotany
have been elicited which refer to groupings
of greater specificity than that of the varietal. However, if such names were found,
we can be assured that they would be
formed in an analogous fashion to that
mentioned above and that they would always be labelled by secondarylexemes.
Varietal taxa are not usually referredto,
in actual speech, by their full names. There
is a tendency for such forms to be "abbreviated," to use Conklin's terminology
(1962:122). In such instances, a portion of
the name will be used to refer to the class as
a whole. In general,abbreviationwill lead to
the deletion of the genericconstituent of the
name (i.e., the head of the expression) and
the specific portion of the name will become
the head. In English, the varietal forms
butter lima(s) bean and baby lima(s) beans
may be abbreviated to butter lima(s) and
baby lima(s). In Tzeltal, one can abbreviate
the varietal expression cahal 'lumil 'enek'
'red ground bean' (Phaseolus vulgaris) to
cahal slumil, literally, 'red ground [ones]9'.

[75,1973

at least one specific taxon is labelled by a


primary lexeme. We feel that the circumstancesunderlyingthese apparentexceptions
are sufficient to indicate that they are, in
fact, exceptions which prove the general
rule.
Instances WhereGenericTaxa
Are Labelledby SecondaryLexemes

It will be recalled that a secondary lexeme is a complex expression which (a) comprises a constituent which labels a taxon
immediately superordinateto the form in
question and (b) occurs in a contrast set
whose members also are labelled by secondary lexemes which share the same superordinate constituent. Three taxa which we
would treat as generic classes appear to be
labelled in Tzeltal by secondary lexemes.
The taxa involved are all introduced to the
highlandChiapasarea and refer to sorghum,
wheat, and strawberry.We will discussthem
in turn.
Sorghum and wheat and strawberry:The
native term for corn in Tzeltal is 9iim. It is a
polytypic generic taxon including at least
five widely recognizedspecific taxa, namely,
sakil 9iim 'white corn', cahal 9iim 'red
corn', k'anal 9iim 'yellow corn', 2ihk'al
2isim 'black corn' andpintu 9iim 'spotted
corn'.7
At the time of the HispanicConquest,the
highland Mayan groups were introduced to
NOMENCLATURE
AND CLASSIFICATION:two similar and yet quite distinct edible
SOMEPOSSIBLEQUALIFICATIONS
grains,wheat and sorghum.These grainbearing field crops were consideredto be similar
We have shown that in Tzeltal ethno- by the Tzeltal populationto their own polybotanical systematics, life form and generic typic class of corn. Logically enough, the
names are labelled by primarylexemes and two introduced classes were linguistically
that specific and varietalnames are labelled designated as kaslan Pjjim8'Castiliancorn',
by secondarylexemes. As such, Tzeltal plant i.e., 'wheat' and m6ro 2ilim'Moorscorn',
name terminology conforms to the nomen- i.e., 'sorghum'.The conceptual affiliation of
claturalprinciplesoutlined in the section on these two taxa with corn is verified in that
general principles. Our data reveal a small both names occur as responsesto the query
numberof exceptions to these generalrules, bitik sbil huhuten 2isim, "What are the
however, which merit discussion. There are names of each kind of corn?" Furtherquesat least three generic names in Tzeltal which tioning, however, clearly demonstratesthat
appearto be labelled by secondarylexemes. these two introduced plants are not kinds of
Likewise, there may be some evidence that genuine corn, i.e., Zea mays, a fact which is

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

223

k'anal 2iWim
(bac'il)

sakil Nilim

iim.

cahal iim

corn

Zeamays

Nihk'al%ilim
pintu 2i&im
PiSimI
grains wheat

kailan 2ilim

Triticum aestivum

m6ro

Sorghum vulgare

jijim

sorghum

Figure 3. Inferredtaxonomic structureshowing relationshipof corn, wheat and sorghum


in Tzeltal folk botany.
linguisticallynoted by the expression bac'il
3isim 'true corn'. Taxonomically, the relationship among corn, sorghum,and wheat is
seen in Figure3.
A comparablesituation to the classification of "grains"is seen in the treatment of
the polytypic generic class makum 'blackberry' in Tzeltal. In this case, the Spanish
introduced the European strawberry
Fragariavesca. The strawberrywas obviously
similar to the known specific varieties of
blackberries but not similar enough to
simply be included as a kind of makum.
Thus, as with 9iim, the class makum was
elevated to become a higher order taxon
including now the native blackberrybac'il
makum and the introduced strawberry
kailanmakum,lit. 'Castilianblackberry'.The
taxonomic structure of this group of plants
can be seen in Figure4.
Each of the above examples describe
special situations broughton by culture con-

makum
(bac'il)
blackberries

tact and indicate that under certain conditions a native polytypic genericname will be
elevated to mark an intermediate superordinate categoryof a higherorderthan that
of the folk genus. Taxa immediately included in this new category may include
generic names which are linguistically
analyzable as secondary lexemes. However,
such a situation can develop only when (a) a
labelled native polytypic generic already is
present in the taxonomy and when (b) conceptually similar (at the generic level, not
the specific) plantsare introduced.
Finally, it should be reiterated that the
native generic must be polytypic. If the
native form is unsegmented and an introduced variety is seen to be similarenough to
be a "kind of" the native plant, the generic
taxon is simply segmented into two specific
taxa. In almost all cases, the native specific
takes the attributive bac'il 'genuine', the
introducedvarietykaslan'foreign'.

1
2
3

Rubus spp.

makum

compositeberries
kailan makum
strawberry

Fragaria vesca

Figure 4. Inferred taxonomic structure indicatingrelationshipof blackberryand strawberry in Tzeltal folk botany.

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224

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

Instances WhereSpecific Taxa


Are Labelled by Primary Lexemes

Just as there are some examples where a


generic taxon may be labelled by a secondary lexeme, a situation contrary to our
generalprinciplesof nomenclature,one also
finds instances of specific taxa taking labels
that must be analyzed as primary lexemes.
As with generic taxa, we suggest that the
atypicality of such examples can be explained and that they in fact provide confirmationof the generalrule.
There appear to be two types of situations involved where specific taxa may be
indicated by primarylexemes. The first, and
most widespread, occurs when one of the
specific classes included in a generictaxon is
consideredto be the type specific of the set.
Often, the label of this type specific class
will be polysemous with that of the superordinate generic name, or as Wyman and
Harrishave said in referringto this kind of
nomenclaturein Navaho,"The situation is as
if in our binomial system the generic name
were used alone for the best known species
of a genus, while binomial terms were used
for all other membersof the genus" (Wyman
and Harris1941:120).
A second situation where specific taxa
may be labelled by primarylexemes occurs
when, for reasons not clearly understood, a
specific taxon appears to be in the process
of assuminga generic status. In so doing, it
ceases to be marked by the standard binomial expression characteristicof specific
taxa. Each of these variousexceptions to the
binomiality of folk specific nomenclature
will now be discussedin detail.

k'ewel
custard apple

[75,1973

Type specific nomenclaturein Tzeltal: In


most, if not all, Tzeltal specific contrastsets,
one of the membersof the set is considered
as the focal or most dominant member.
Generally, the type specific taxon refers to
membersof the generic class which have the
widest geographicaldistribution,are largerin
size, or are the best known.
In many naturalcontexts, it is often the
case that one can refer to the type specific
by the generic name alone (i.e., by the
polysemous use of the generic name) with
total confidence of being understood. An
example can be seen in the classificationof
kinds of custardapple (Anona spp.). For the
Tzeltal there are three specific taxa in this
set as seen in Figure5.
In many situations, k'ewes can be used
alone to refer to the most prominent type
specific class, A. cherimola. However,when
greater precision of designation is desired,
informantsreadily providebinomialdesignation by the addition of the attributivebac'il
'genuine', leading to the form bac'il k 'ewe'
'genuinecustardapple'. In fact, the linguistic
contrast required between type specific
members and all other members of the
specific contrast set is invariablyindicated
by the addition of the attributivebac'il in all
other cases found in Tzeltal where the type
specific is polysemous with the generic
name. (For a detailed discussion of this
process which can be understood as a type
of linguisticmarking,see Berlin1972.)
Aberrantspecific taxa markedby primary
lexemes: Some specific taxa may be labelled
by primary lexemes if the taxa in question
appear to be achieving generic status. We
have data for one case in Tzeltal, but as will

k'ewey
(type) custard apple

Anona cherimola

6'is3'is k'ewey
spiny custard apple

A. muricata

k'ewev mav
monkey's custard apple

A. reticulata

Figure 5. Type specific nomenclature as exemplified in names for custard apples in


Tzeltal folk botany.

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOG Y: CLASSIFICA TION AND NOMENCLA TURE

be pointed out, the process appearsto be a


generalone.
For most Tzeltal informants,the generic
hih teP 'oak' includes four specific taxa:
ca pat hih te2 'excrement barked oak', sak
yok hih te? 'white footed oak', k'ewe' hih
te2 'custard apple oak' and Eikinibhih te9,
'armadilloeared oak'. This latter form may,
for most informants,be cited in abbreviated
form, i.e., simply Eikinib. For some informants,this is the preferredusage.
Some other Tzeltal speakers, however,
recognize only the first three classesof oaks
as "genuine oaks" and treat Eikinibas being
a closely related but distinct taxon coordinate with hih te2 'oak'. One Tzeltal
Indian for whom the above classificationof
oaks holds, producedthe taxonomic diagram
indicatedin Figure6.
That such a situation could arise is partially explained in that Eikinibis by far the
most divergent class of oaks with many
charactersreadily distinguishingit from the
other three classes.
Concludingcomments on Tzeltal nomenclature and category status: We have presented several examples from Tzeltal where
the nomenclaturalpropertiesof a particular
plant name were at variance with those
expected given its ethnobiological category

225

membership.On the one hand, we pointed


out examples where generic taxa were labelled by secondary lexemes and, on the
other, showed at least one example where a
specific taxon was labelled by a primary
lexeme. In the first case, it appearsthat all
such names result from a change in the
taxonomic structuredue to the introduction
of new organisms. In the latter case, taxonomic change appears to be taking place
which suggests that a once specific taxon is
achieving generic status due to its quite
dissimilar characteristics when compared
with contrastingspecific forms.
Whileall of these cases are exceptions to
the nomenclatural principles we outlined
earlier,the processeswhich allow such deviations to arise appearto be describable.Considering that the Tzeltal have not been
known to hold botanicalnomenclaturalcongresses, it is of some interest that the number of exceptions are as few as those noted.
INTERMEDIATE
TAXA
Thus far, our discussion of Tzeltal plant
taxonomy and nomenclature has centered
on an overview of the ethnobotanicalcategories whose membersare life form, generic
and specific taxa. We have mentioned the
Quercus peduncularis

ca~pathihte

Q0.rugosa

excrement barked oak

0. segoviensis

Q.crassifolia
Q. dysophylla
(bac'il) hihte
true oaks

sakyok hihte
white footed oak
k'ewes hihte;
custard apple oak

Q0.candicans
Q. crassifolia

0. polymorpha
0. rugosa

[hihte?]

6ikinib
armadillo eared oak

Q. mexicana
0. sapotifolia
Q. conspersa

Figure 6. Inferred taxonomic structure indicatingrelationshipof large leafed and small


leafed oaks in Tzeltal folk botany.

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226

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

occurrence of varietal taxa but their presence is of minor importance numerically


(though, no doubt, of major importance
culturally). One further comment on the
taxonomic structureof the Tzeltal world of
plants needs to be made at this point and
this concerns the presence of categories of
greaterinclusivenessthan that of the Tzeltal
genus but of lesser inclusiveness than the
Tzeltal life form taxa (cf. examples of
"grains"and "berries"in Figures2 and 3).
Wehave elsewhere(Berlin,Breedlove,and
Raven 1968) suggested that one may
recognizeempirically,a number of so-called
"covert categories"which for the most part
represent groupingsof generic names which
are included in mid-leveltaxa that have not
been labelledby Tzeltal plant lexemes. Thus,
for Tzeltal informants,the genericnameskul
'iom hol, Pihk'uye

'iV, and Bohioh

Pak',
E'is, all vine names referringto membersof
the genus Smilax, compose a well defined
taxonomic contrast set included in a superordinate taxon which is not marked by a
simplelinguisticexpression.The same can be
said of many conceptually similargroupings
of generic taxa. To this point we have
established
approximately seventy-four
covert taxa of greater inclusiveness than
Tzeltal generics.
The recognition of unlabelled mid-level
taxa can be of considerable importance in
understanding fundamental principles of
native classification and should not be
ignored by placing too much stresssolely on
named categories. However, the fact that
categories such as these have not been labelled suggests that the need to distinguish
such classes is as yet relatively unimportant
in most cultural contexts where the Tzeltal
discussthe plant world.

SUMMARYOF TZELTALPLANT
TAXONOMYAND NOMENCLATURE
The Tzeltal world of plants as seen from
this broad overview can now be summarized
as follows. The domain as a whole corresponds very closely with the standard
botanically defined plant divisionof Western

[75,1973

science. It is not designated by a single


habitual linguistic expression, although
certain circumlocutions may be utilized to
contrast the domain with other natural
groupingsof organismssuch as animals.The
occurrenceof all plant nameswith the numeralclassifer,tehk, permits the domain to
be defined unambiguouslyon a strictly linguistic basis.
Linguistic and taxonomic considerations
allow for the recognition of four conceptual
classes of plant taxa which receive habitual
names: life form taxa, generic taxa, specific
taxa, and varietaltaxa.
There are four life form names, te2,
wamal, 9ak and 'ak' which correspond to
the life forms "tree," "herbs," "grass,"and
"vines," respectively. There are 471 generic
names. Generic names mark taxa which are
the basic building blocks of the taxonomy
and are of major importancepsychologically. Most genericnames, 398, are monotypic,
while a minority, seventy-three, are polytypic. Theselatter polytypic genericsinclude
among them 239 specific names in contrast
sets rangingfrom two to seventeenmembers.
Intermediatemid-leveltaxa do exist, but the
fact that they are unlabelled suggests that
their cultural significanceis as yet relatively
small. In overview,the Tzeltal taxonomy of
plants is seen as a simple taxonomy consisting essentially of two, and, less commonly,
three namedlevels.
There appears to be a strong correlation
between the linguistic form of a plant name
and taxonomic category which it labels.
With a few exceptions, most of which are
explainable, primary lexemes are restricted
to generic and life form taxa while secondary lexemes almost invariablylabel taxa of
lesser inclusivenessthan the folk genus, i.e.,
specific or varietal taxa. As such, Tzeltal
ethnobotanical terminology is highly systematic and can be understoodin terms of a
small number of regular nomenclatural
principles.
In the remainderof the article, we present data which suggest that these principles
have applicability in a number of other
ethnobiologicalsystems of classificationand,

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

227

growth. They are kaiyu 'tree', 7ilamnun


'herbs' and wiikat 'vines'. These taxa are
much like the major life form taxa of
GENERALITYOF FOLKBIOLOGICAL Tzeltal. Thereare, as well, severalambiguous
taxa that cannot be so classified,some three
PRINCIPLESOF CLASSIFICATION
AND NOMENCLATURE
percent of a total of 1625 terminal plant
taxa. These ambiguous forms, such as bamWhile data on some aspects of ethno- boo, seem to be morphologicallyaberrantin
botany and ethnozoology, especially the some form or other and are logically comuses of plantsand animals,are availablefrom parable to the ambiguous taxa found in
a wide variety of sources, good materialson Tzeltal folk botany.
the classificatory principles underlying folk
Immediately included in the three major
biological taxonomy and nomenclature in life form taxa are some 822 plant taxa which
non-Western societies are sadly lacking. are labelled by what Conklin refers to as
Much of the earlier work on ethnobiology "basic plant names." These forms are defocused on problems relevant to the time limited by straight-forwardlinguisticcriteria
but made little attempt to discover the in that they are unique to ethnobotanical
conceptual foundations of ethnoscience as vocabulary,being full wordswhich are "free
practiced by preliterate peoples. Our sup- morphemes or unanalyzable stems"
porting data are thus considerably less ad- (1954:114-115). Conklin'sbasic plant names
equate than we would like. However, those appearto be "generic"in our sense.
systems which have been studied from an
Exactly 571 basic plant namesare monoethnoscientific point of view and are more typic. The remainder,251, are polytypic and
or less complete in detailing the classifica- include taxa of greaterspecificity than that
tory structureof a particularethnobiological of the basic plant name. Linguistically,these
domain lend support to our hypotheses con- sub-generictaxa are labelled in the expected
cerning the universal similarity of ethno- binomial fashion. "The most common form
biological classification and nomenclature. [of the sub-generic name] is a binomial
We now sketch the major outlines of several combination" (Ibid.:17). Of the 1054 plant
systems which have been studied with a names labelled by secondary lexemes, 961
focus on the cognitive organizationof the are of the binomial type, or about ninetyworld of plants and animals.
one percent of the total polynomialdesignations. Only for the cultivated plants lada?
'chili pepper' and mais 'corn' are expresHanun6o Ethnobotany
sions of three or four attributivesutilized.
One of the most complete and influential
As in Tzeltal, named mid-levelgroupings
descriptions of the ethnobotany of a non- between life form taxa and generic classes
Western people is Harold C. Conklin's un- are conspicuouslyabsent. In Conklin'swords
published Ph.D. dissertation,"The Relation "mid groupings of plants are made, of
of the Hanun6o to the Plant World."This course, but not according to a structured
identifiable system"
work, completed in 1954, lends considerable terminologically
independentsupport to the generalityof the (1954:97).
propositionsof universalethnobiological caType specific-folkgenericpolyemy is also
tegories as well as to the nomenclatural noted in Hanunbo folk botany. Thus, "a
principles which appear to be operative in shared term [i.e., a polytypic generic plant
the labeling of taxa which occur as members name] when not followed by an attribute,
of these categories.
may be read as that term plus Purfirjan
In Hanun6o, almost all plants are in- 'real'." The resulting name is the preferred
cluded in one of three major groups distin- synonym required where the designated
guished by the criterion of habit of stem plant name is distinguishedfrom others in
by implication, may be thought to have
widespreadgenerality.

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228

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

[75,1973

palyas (PuriJyan)
real Job's tears
Coix lacryma-jobii

palyas

Job's tear
palyas bintakay
small Job's tears

Figure 7. Hanun6o terms for kinds of Job's tears exhibiting optionally marked typespecific.
the same set (Conklin 1954:259). An example is seen in the labelling of the polytypic taxon Job's tears (in Figure7).
There is little doubt, then, that the
Hanunbo picture conforms well to the present exposition. Hanunbo major classes, inclusive of ninety-seven percent of all plant
taxa, constitute a handful of life form taxa.
Conklin's basic plant names are clearly
generic forms marked by primary lexemes.
Furthermore, most are monotypic (some
571 of the 822). The majorityof all remaining terminalclasses are specific taxa marked
by secondary lexemes, the linguistic structure of which is predominantly binomial,
i.e., a generic name modified by an attributive.
Karam Ethnozoology

Ralph Bulmer's work on Karam ethnozoology, a primitivepeople of New Guinea,


is no doubt the most comprehensivemodem
ethnoscientific descriptionof this biological
domain yet available.Whileno monographic
work has been published so far, several
lengthy articles have appearedwhich allow
for the major outlines of Karam animal
classification to be known (Bulmer 1967,
1968, 1970; Bulmerand Tyler 1968).
The majorthrustof Bulmer'sresearchhas
been to show that primitive man's linguistic recognition of the naturally occurring
groupings of related organisms found in
nature are logically comparable to the
species of Western biological science.
(Bulmeris quick to point out, however,that
no perfect mapping of folk and biological
categories can be expected at all times.) He

would refer to these naturalunits as "speciemes," a neologism based on the term


"species" and the affix "-eme." Speciemes,
as applied to animal taxa but with little
modification applicableto plants as well, are
defined as "groups of creaturesmarkedoff
from all other animals known.., .by multiple distinctions of appearance,habitat and
behavior and not including recognized subgroupings marked off from each other in a
similar way" (my italics) (Bulmer and Tyler
1968:344). One is told that most speciemes
are given names, and most are analyzableas
linguistically simple. As such, speciemes are
formally generic taxa in our currentformultion.
On the other hand, Bulmerand Tyler are
hesitant to depend too strongly on the linguistic form of the names of taxa as indicative of the taxonomic status of a particular
class. Thus, the names applied to speciemes
cannot be "given a fixed syntactic definition" (1968:350).
One of the difficulties in Bulmer'sotherwise excellent treatment of Karam animal
taxonomy is his assignment of the taxonomic rank of a taxon solely on the basis
of its taxonomic level with little consideration of its cognitive status vis-a-visother
taxonomic categories. Bulmer recognizes
four kinds of taxonomically defined groupings (see Bulmer1970:1073-1074).
(1) primary taxa: "Those taxa not
subsumable into any larger taxon other
than tap 'thing' ";

(2) secondary taxa: "immediate subdivisionsof primarytaxa";


(3) tertiary taxa: "immediate subdivisionsof secondarytaxa";

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Berlin et al.] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

(4) quaternarytaxa: "subdivisionsof


tertiarytaxa."
Karam taxa may also be classified as
terminal "regardless of their hierarchical
status, if they are units with no standardly
namedsubdivisions"(Idem).
Bulmer reports that there are ninetyfour primarytaxa but that exactly sixty-six
of these are monotypic, i.e., are also
terminal (Bulmer1968:7). Examplesof such
groups would be "wowiy, applied to a small
aypot, applied to an agamid
gecko...;
lizard... ; ssk, applied to certain black
scarabbeetles" (Bulmer1970:1074).
The remainingtwenty-eight primarytaxa
are polytypic and include additional taxa.
Since Bulmer does not utilize the comparableconcept of life form, it is difficult to
determinefrom the publishedmaterialshow
many of these remainingclassesare life form
taxa and how many are generic.However,if
the numberof taxa includedin each of these
twenty-eight polytypic primary taxa is any
clue, which we believe it is, we may surmise
that the number of distinct major life form
classesis relativelyfew.
Thus, twenty-three primary polytypic
classes are said to include small numbersof
taxa, from two to six members,all of which
are themselves terminal. The remainingfive
primary taxa look suspiciously like life
forms as may be seen by noting their
semantic ranges and number of included
categories.
yakt 'flying birdsand bats'
181 terminaltaxa
as 'frogs,small marsupialsand rodents'
35 terminaltaxa
kmn 'largermarsupialsand rodents'
30 terminaltaxa
jot) 'grasshoppersand crickets'
20 terminaltaxa
yn 'skinks'
11 terminaltaxa
It is clear that the taxonomic level of a
particulartaxon in the Karamclassification
of animalsis not necessarilycrucialin determining its ethnobiological categoricalstatus.
Monotypic taxa such as wowiy 'smallgecko'

229

are logically comparableto such unaffiliated


taxa as bamboo and cactus in Tzeltal. It is
unlikely that the primary taxon wowiy has
the same status in Karamthought as does
the large polytypic primary taxon yakt
'bird', a class including 181 taxa. Bulmer
recognizes this by analyzing wowiy as
marking a class of specieme status while
yakt is a taxon of a "higher order" (cf.
Bulmer and Tyler 1968:350). The point is,
of course, that the "higher order" referred
to is one of conceptual rank. Thus, while
wowiy and yakt may be "primarytaxa" as
taxonomically defined, they are membersof
different ethnobiological categories, generic
and life form respectively.
It can be assumed,then, that the majority
of Karamanimal taxa are of generic status
while a small number of names appear to
designatelife form categories.This conforms
well with what one would expect in terms of
the structures of other folk biological
taxonomies.
An analysisof those Karamgenericnames
which are polytypic providessome information on the applicability of our principles
concerning folk specific nomenclature.
Specific taxa, in our terms, are quite rarein
Karam.One of the majorpolytypic life form
taxa, as, frogs and small terrestrialmammals,
includes twenty-fivegenerictaxa. Only three
are polytypic and are labelled by the names
indicatedin Figure8.
The final polytypic genericjejeg, includes
four specific taxa. Each is binomial in linguistic structure. One of the taxa, (jejeg)
pkay, is of interest in that it may be abbreviated, the attributive constituent coming to
stand for the class as a whole. This is quite
common in much specific nomenclatureand
can be seen in English with the alternative
forms lima and lima bean.
The taxa lk and gwnm are similar in
that each includes a type specific taxon
which is polysemously labelled with the
generic name. The non-typical specific
(gynm) sbmganpygak shows abbreviation as

in the case of (jejeg) pkay. The only real


exception to binomialnomenclaturein these
data is the apparentlyunanalyzableprimary

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230

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

[75,1973

[Other monotypic frogs and


small terrestrial mammals]
jejeg pkay

as

km

jejeg

frogs and small


terrestrial mammals

jejeg mlep
"jejeg
jejeg mosb

kbophm<
bophm

Cophixalus spp.

gwnm
gwmngwnm

sbmganpgak

Cophixalus
riparius

(gwnm) sbmganpygak

Figure 8. Taxonomic summary of Karam taxon as, frogs, indicating the only three polytypic generic taxa of this set.
Thus if one regards jejeg, lk and gwnm as
polytypic genera, one is faced with the
awkward situation that the subdivisions
of one are conceptually varietals, of another are conceptually specifics and of
the third include one specific and one
which is itself at least covertly generic
[Bulmer, personal communication].
Comparable data from Tzeltal in the area
of folk botany can be seen in comparing the
two generics nahk 'alder' and hih te 'oak'.
nahk, for some speakers, is divided into two
specific taxa, cahal nahk 'red beech' (Alnus
ferruginea) and sakil nahk 'white beech'
(Alnus arguta), both of which refer to color
variants of the genus Alnus.
The included specific taxa of hih te ,
the named subdivisions of jejeg can only
be regarded in conceptual terms as vari- however, as seen in Figure 6, are distinants or varietals, contrasting only in a guished by several criteria, namely, leaf charsingle dimension, colour. Lk on the other acters (size, shape, color, texture, thickness,
hand includes two taxa of lower order
bark characters (color, thickness,
which probably cannot be considered margin),
acorn size, trunk strength, and
both
contrast
texture),
as
as
variants,
they
simply
in size and ecology. Gwnm are more trunk grain.
complicated still, the secondary taxon
A possible interpretation of both the
spanning at least five zoological genera Karam and Tzeltal materials is that the
and species. Sbmganpygak is normally
applied to two subterranean dwelling greater the number of dimensions utilized to
'zoological' genera, which Karam do not distinguish specifics, the greater the biologidistinguish, and the unmarked terminal cal diversity of the folk generic. A more
taxon gwnm spans the residue which inbe the relacludes at least two morphologically and objective index, perhaps, might
tive numbers of biological species referred to
distinctive
forms
ecologically
highly
which Karam recognise but do not have the respective folk generics. In the case of
agreed names for.
nahk, two biological species are involved. In

lexeme bopnm which occurs as the name for


one of the specific taxa of lk. Bulmer and
Tyler's report lead one to believe that
bopnm may be ambiguous as a specific
taxon, comparable to the name Eikinib in
Tzeltal. If so, the fact that it is labelled by
an apparent primary lexeme would indicate
that it may be assuming generic status in
Karam taxonomy.
Bulmer's frog data, as well as our own
from Tzeltal, points up another difficult
problem in interpreting folk biological materials. This concerns what might be referred
to as the internal biological diversity of folk
generics. Bulmer writes:

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Berlin et al.] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE


the case of hih te9, at least ten species of

231

paan2 'red grouper')" (Anderson 1967:16).


Quercus are representedin the folk genus. It would appear that the ethnobiological
One could go further and suggestthat a folk categories noted by these three successive
generic which referred to several species of levels can be easily understoodas correspondistinct generawas more biologicallydiverse, ding to life form, generic, and specific cateobjectively, than a folk generic which re- gories.
ferred to several species of the same genus,
At level one of the taxonomy, Anderson
e.g., tah in Tzeltal which refers to several describessix majorclasseswhich include the
majority of all named organisms.These are
species of Pinus and Abies.
On the other hand, demonstratingthat u6 'fish', hal 'decapod crustaceans'(prawn,
two folk generics are different in terms of lobster), hai7 'crab', 1o6 'snail', hou5
absolute biological diversity is not sufficient 'oyster', hin6 'clam, bivalve' (Idem). These
evidence to suggest that the two taxa are taxa are small in numberand broadin scope
conceptually of differing ranks. Thus, both and clearlymarklife forms.
hih te? and nahk are taxonomically imWhile the number of terms at level one
mediatelyincludedin the life form te 'tree', are few, "The situation is quite different at
both names are freely recalled in eliciting the second level. Hereone finds some 200 or
lists of tree names, neither appears, from more terms. Withinthe enormous set of u6,
tentative evidence, to be more difficult to [fish], the number of terms is particularly
learn than the other, and so on. Whilethere high, and all of them contrast" (Anderson
is no doubt a continuum in the absolute 1967:18). Thus, like other folk taxonomies,
biological diversity of folk generic taxa, the number of generic terms appears to be
some being relatively compact, others more relativelylarge.Some taxa, e.g., u6 'fish', are
wide ranging, we see no reason at this time comparableto Tzeltal te 'tree' in that they
to suggest that this continuum is con- include large numbers of generic names.
ceptually relevant in prescientific bio- And, again, comparableto the Tzeltal matesystematics.
rials, Anderson found intermediate categories to be lacking, or if present, not to be
Cantonese Ethnoichthyology
labelledby any name.
Anderson writes that certain of the
A recent detailed analysis by Eugene generic taxa at level two are further partiAnderson indicates the generality of our tioned and these would correspond to our
findings for the domain of ethnoichthyol- notion of specific categories.This appearsto
ogy. In his recent study of the Cantonese be the full depth of the taxonomy for all
speaking boat people of Castle Peak Bay, "third level taxa are... terminal ones; no
Hong Kong, Andersondescribesa taxonomic fourth level exists" (Ibid.:19).
system for sea-lifewhich conforms closely to
Nomenclaturally, the system is highly
what we have suggested is typical for folk regularand predictable.Termsat the second
biological taxonomies generally. Firstly, the level, the generic terms, are linguistically
named taxonomy is quite shallow, consisting analyzed as primarylexemes. Specific taxa
only of three levels. There is no "singleterm are labelled by lexemes which are binomial
and can be treated as secondary lexemes.
covering all the items discussed.. . except
such descriptive labels as hoi6 ie7 'sea They are formed, as expected, by the names
for specific kinds of mackereland sardines,
things' " (Anderson 1967:16).9
Of the three named levels one finds cate- as seen in Figure9.
The polysemous labelling of the generic
goriesas follows: "very general(u6 'fish';hal
'decapod crustacean'); fairly specific, cor- and the most common or type folk specific
responding roughly to Western species is also attested in the Cantonese materials.
(tshiing4 paan2 'green grouper'; hung5
Dragon decapods (i.e., spiny lobsters) and

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232

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

kaau4
mackere

[75,1973

fal kaau4
spotted mackerel

Rastrelliger kanagurta

pin6 kaau4
compressed mackerel

Scomberomorus koreanum

taai3 ik3 kaau4


big wing (=fin) mackerel

S. commersoni

tshing4 kaau4
green mackerel

S. sinensis

kaml ku6
golden sardine
ku6
sardine

tshing4 ku6
green sardine

Scatophagus argus

uong5 ku6
yellow sardine

Figure 9. Chinese of Hong Cong Harbor mackerel and sardine terminology.


spring decapods (i.e., mantis shrimps) are
labelled as seen in Figure 10. Anderson notes
that "the common kind has no specific name
(the same name contrasts at two levels)" or
that "the ordinary name contrasts at both
levels 2 and 3" (Ibid.:71).
Anderson's conclusions are of considerable interest for our typological argument
and are given here in full:
Some of the features of the Cantonese
classification of marine life are interestingly similar to features of other systems. The author has experience with

English and Tahitian fish taxonomies as


well as with Cantonese. All of these folk
taxonomies have three basic levels: very
general ('fish', 'i'a' 'fish' in Tahitian, and
'u6'); more specific ('ma'o' 'shark' in
Tahitian, 'sa4 u6' in Cantonese); and
very specific ('thrasher shark', 'hammer'ma'o'a'ahi' 'thrasher
head shark'...
shark', 'ma'o afeta' 'hammerhead shark'
in Tahitian and 'nagau5 lim3 sa4"'thrasher shark' and the various words for hammerheads in Cantonese). The choice of
examples points to another fact-that
terms in these three totally unrelated
languages are often nearly perfect transla-

lung3 hal
ordinary greenish-red spiny lobster
lung3 hal

Palinurus spp.

spiny lobster
tshatltshio6 lung3hal
seven colored spiny lobster

thaan5 hal
common mantis shrimp
thaan5 hal
mantis shrimp(

Squilla spp.
hal
tsing4 soi2
thaan5
green water mantis shrimp

Figure 10. Chinese of Hong Cong Harbor lobster and mantis shrimp terminology.

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

tions of each other, at least in reference


to fish" [Anderson1967:35].
Finally the author notes that the structural characteristicsof English, Cantonese,
Tahitian,and Latin nomenclature"aremore
similar than coincidence alone [can] explain" (Ibid.:36). As our broader comparative evidence reveals,these similaritiesmust
certainly reflect identical ethnobiological
nomenclaturalprinciplesemployed by many
prescientificpeoples in their linguistic treatment of the biologicaluniverse.
NavajoEthnobiology
Extensive studies have been carried out
on Navajo ethnobiology by Leland C.
Wymanand his collaborators.Two studies in
particular(Wymanand Harris1941; Wyman
and Bailey 1964) are of particularinterest in
our comparative context in that both are
fairly complete descriptions.In Wymanand
Harris(1941), one is presentedwith a survey
of Navajo ethnobotany. This is the first
work, to our knowledge, where the logically
comparablenotions of scientific generaand
folk genera are presented in a more or less
explicit fashion. In this work, native groupings of plants which appearto representthe
most significant discontinuitiesof the plant
world are called Navajogenera. Such groupings are labelled by what Wymanand Harris
call a "basic stem name." Classes smaller
than the Navajogenus are called "varietals."
Nomenclaturally, varietal names are comprised of a basic stem name plus some kind
of attributiveexpression.
In this early publication, Wyman and
Harris are hesitant to treat stem names as
generics(though this position is to changein
Wymanand Bailey 1964) as can be seen in
this parentheticalfootnote:
It would be confusing to call the stem
names generic names, since they do refer
to definite botanical species. The situation is as if in our binomial system the
generic name were used alone for the best
known species of a genus, while the
binomial terms were used for all other
membersof the genus [1941:12 ].

233

As we have seen, the situation described


by Wymanand Harriscan easily be understood as one where one of the specific taxa
is seen to be a type specific and its label is
polysemous with the superordinategeneric
name in common, every-dayusage.That the
authorsshould be confused here is due to an
inordinate concern with the one-to-one
mapping of scientific categories and native
taxa.
In Wymanand Bailey'slater treatmentof
Navajo classification on insects, one finds a
ready acceptance of the notion of folk
genera and folk species. Here we note that
"It is more realistic.., .to employ the term
Navajogeneric for the native appellationof
the basic group [of organisms] and Navajo
species for the generic names qualified by
adjectivalterms"(1964:17).
Navajo ethnoentomology shows many
characteristicsin common with other systems of ethnobiologicalclassification.Of the
102 Navajo genera discovered, forty-two
were furtherpartitionedinto specific classes.
Only nine of these polytypic forms included
more than ten specifics. And, as we have
seen, specific designation is as expected:
linguisticallyit is binomial in all cases with
the qualification noted above of type specific-generic polysemy.
Bulmer(1965), in a reviewof Wymanand
Bailey's work, is correctly critical of certain
aspects of it. He points out that no formal
definition of generic category or generic
name is offered, nor is an attempt made in
theirlisting to indicate when a form is meant
to designate generic or specific taxa. Likewise, Navajogenericsare not distinguishedin
a convincing way from the few more inclusive Navajo class names (called phyla). It
seems that Bulmer'smajor objection is that
the authors utilize the scientific model of
nomenclature too literally. He concludes:
"The trouble with this procedureis that one
simply cannot assume that nomenclatureis
an adequate guide to taxonomy"
(1965:1565). On the other hand, this observation should not lead one to the opposite extreme which is to imply that the
relationshipbetween folk nomenclatureand

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234

AMERICANANTHROPOLOGIST

folk taxonomy is spuriousor fortuitous. As


we have seen, a strongerhypothesis, and we
think one supported by considerabledata, is
to assume that nomenclature is a reliable
guide to taxonomy and to treat contrary
evidence not as random exceptions but as
explainable deviations from highly regular
principles.
Fore Ethnozoology
A brief, but lucid, account of the general
outlines of another preliterate people's
classificationof animalsis seen in Diamond's
discussion of the Fore of Highland New
Guinea (Diamond 1966). While focusing
primarilyon a discussion of the folk classification of birds, Diamond provides some
interesting information that corresponds,in
most respects, to. what we have said about
other ethnobiological systems of classification.
In the first place, the Fore taxonomy of
animals is relatively simple as far as the
numberof named taxonomic levels are concerned. Thus, "The Fore classificatory system was found to involve two levels ...
There were no intermediate categories"
(Diamond 1966:1102-1103). From the
author's description, it does not appearthat
the domain of animalsas a whole receives a
linguistic designation and is unlabelled, another feature in common with many folk
systems.
At level one of the taxonomy, one finds
that "All animalsare assignedto one of nine
higher categories, designated by so-called
tabe ake or "big names'" (Idem). The
classes marked by these "big names" are
kcibara 'birds' (includes 110 taxa); uimu
'small flightless mammals' (includes 15
taxa); [ga 'large flightless mammals' (20
taxa); tcro 'frogs' (16 taxa); kwiydgine
'lizards and snakes' (17 taxa); and kabdgina
'insects, spiders, worms' (number of included taxa not determined). There are two
monotypic taxa which Diamond says occur
as contrasting members with the above
forms; amanani 'cassowary' and uba 'fish'.

[75,1973

Finally, there is one polytypic taxon that


includes but two terminal taxa, isimi 'bats'.
From the list of taxa found at level one it
appearscertainthat the majorityof them are
large polytypic classes which we would
analyze as members of the ethnobiological
taxonomic categorylife form. The namesfor
the taxa "cassowary"and "fish" we would
want to treat as monotypic aberrantgenerics
which are not conceptually included in any
of the known major life forms, a typical
feature of folk taxonomies. The analysis of
the taxon for 'bat' isimi must be ambiguous
given the informationavailablein Diamond's
report. On structural grounds, one would
want to treat this taxon as an aberrant
generic name which includes two specific
taxa. Whether or not the taxa included in
[simi are labelledby secondarylexemes, thus
providingevidence that they are specific, is
not known.
As concernsthe linguisticstructureof the
perhapsmore than 200 taxa at level two of
the taxonomy, all appear to be labelled by
primarylexemes and many of these may be
simple primarylexemes. Diamondnotes that
some expressions were analyzable but that
"the greatmajorityof nameshad no obvious
etymologies and were said by the Fore to be
simply words without meaning [other than
their zoological referents, of course]"
(Ibid.:1103-1104).
GuaraniEthnobiology
Guarani provides additional evidence in
support of many of the principlessuggested
here, though the data are, admittedly, incomplete. We have found informationrelating to the classification of some groups of
animals and plants which is of relevance
here.
Dennler (1939) presents a report on the
classificationof mammalsin Guarani.Weare
not told whether or not mammals, as a
taxon, constitutes a native category in this
language. Nonetheless, it appearsthat mammals are divided into twenty-nine groups,
fourteen of which comprise single forms.

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOG Y: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

235

Arirai
river wolf

Pteronura brasiliensis

Eiri
huron

Tayra barbara

Wareru"
squirrel

Guerlinguetus ingrami

Figure 11. Examplesof monotypic mammalnames in Guarant.


"All the remaining groups contain two or
more forms; the names of these forms are
binomials"(Dennler 1939:233). From these
data it would appear that Dennler has
isolated twenty-nine generic taxa, fourteen
of which are monotypic, the remainingfifteen taxa being polytypic.
Examples of unpartitioned folk generics
are seen in Figure 11 (cf. Dennler
1939:225-233).
There are, as well, genericswhich include
folk specific taxa and these may be illustrated by the following examples in Figure
12.
Some examples are suggestive of type
specific-folk generic polysemy as seen in
other systems, and are illustrated in Figure
13.

Dennler,a physicianand naturalscientist,


was rightly impressed with the Guarani
system and closed his article as follows:
Guaraninames "representa well conceived
system which bears a certain similarity to
our Linnaeansystem of nomenclature.These
Indiansdid not leave the selection of a name
to chance but came together from time to
time in order to decide which terms best
correspondedto the characteristicsof a species, and, in large part, classified them into
groups and sub-groupsin a logical and adequate fashion" (1939:244).
Leaving aside Dennler's questionable
accuracy in reporting an ethno-zoological
congress on native nomenclature (certainly
the first of its kind, if true), it is clear that
the Guarani system correspondsclosely to

Karadyg hu

Alouatta caraya

Karadya pih ta

A. ursina

Kaaf mbirikind
Kaaf
t1
Kaaf hL
Kaaf ki
Kaaf qwas6
Kaafmbirf

Aotus miriquouina (A. azara)


A teleus variegatus
A. ater
Cebus libidinosus
C. paraguayanus
Saimiri sciureus

Mbopfquas6

Chrotopterus aurilus

Mbopf qusu

Demodus rotundus

TayasO tafteti

Pecari tajaca

Karady
large monkey

Kaaf
mon key

Mbop/

bats

cari

Taasa-tTayasu

wild pigs (peca

Tayas6 tanyihka-tf

Tayasu pecari

Figure 12. Examplesof polytypic mammalnames in Guaranf.

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236

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

Mborevi
tapir

[75,1973

Mborevf

Tapirus terrestris

Mborevf hovih

T. terrestris var. obscura

Mbarakadya

Margay tigrina wiedi

Mbarakadya hu

M. tigrina var. melas

Mbarakadya
cats

Figure13. Guarani mammaltermsexhibitingpolysemy of genericand type-specific.


the principles that we have suggested are
generally operative in the linguistic designation of the biological world in folk biosystematics.
Ourdata on Guaraniplant classificationis
equally sketchy but suggestive. In a short
paper on Guarani agriculture, MartinezCrovetto (1966:634-635) provides a list of
cultivated plants found in common use
among this people. All of the genericnames
which are divided into smaller classes are
identical in that binomial nomenclature is
applicablefor all forms.
For corn, (Zea mays), one finds the following classes,all of which we would classify
as specific taxa (Figure 14). Finally,
binomial nomenclatureis also found for the
cultivated beans, manioc, potatoes, melons,
peanuts,sugarcane, and cotton.

ClassicalNahuatlEthnobotany
The system of botanical and zoological
nomenclaturereported for classicalNahuatl
as spoken by the Aztecs of the Central
Mexican Plateaualso correspondsclosely to
the general features of ethnobiological
terminology seen in other languages. The
basic structure of Nahuatl plant and animal
names may be inferredfrom a cursoryreading of Book 11, Earthly Things, Dibble and
Anderson's important translation of Sahagun's Florentine Codex (Dibble and Anderson 1963).
The most explicit statement on nomenclaturalprinciples,however,is found in Paso
y Troncoso'searlyand sensitivetreatmentof
Nahuatl ethnobotany (Paso y Troncoso
1886). This work, perhapsone of the most

Avatf ki
young corn (possibly not a class name
but a stage name)
Avatf mirf
smal

corn

Avat! tupi

morochocorn
Avati
corn

Avatf pars
overo corn
A vati moro t
white corn

Avatfmith

child's corn

A vatiporor6
broken corn

Figure 14. Guarani corn namesexhibitingregularbinominalstructure.

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Zea mays

Berlin et al. i FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

237

detailed and objective reports of its kind for


The author then proceeds to cite the
the time of writing, indicates explicitly that following specific classes of tollin; as seen in
the Nahuatl system had life form names, Figure15.
such as tree, vine, grass, in which the majorClearly, tollin may be consideredhere as
ity of plant taxa were included.Genericand a generic name, its various included specific
specific taxa are the most numerous and taxa being indicated according to the bispecific namesare primarilybinomialexpres- nomial principleswe have outlined above.
sions. The structure of Nahuatl specific
names is shown to be logically identical to
what we have seen for other languages,
THEPSYCHOLOGICAL
SIGNIFICANCEOF TAXONOMIC
whereby the last term in a binomial expresCATEGORIES
ETHNOBIOLOGICAL
sion
represents the generic name, while the
preceding term or terms can be considered as equivalent to the specific
the

name . . . [Thus],

qualifiers, com-

monly, are attached before the substantive, as in English, with the difference
that in this latter languageeach term of
the binary nomenclature constitutes a
separate word, while in the Mexican language, the terms remain joined, almost
always, in a single word [1886:217 ].
Paso y Troncoso goes on to point out
that most generic names are unanalyzable,
many having no obvious etymology and as
such are best treated in our termsas primary
lexemes. On the other hand, the semantic
features marked by the attributivesused to
form specific names are generally obvious,
referring to such characters as "the place
where the plant grows, at other times indicating some particular property of the
plant, referring to its form, coloration,
make-up, orientation, or any other characteristic vegetative properties that might
apply..

." (Ibid.:218).

Aztec botanical nomenclature is also


comparable to Hanun6o, Navajo, Tzeltal,
and the other languageswe have observedin
that the most common specific class of a
particular generic taxon is labelled by a
polysemous form of the genericname. Thus,
one notes that the Nahuatl classificationof
sedges, tollin, included a "type-speciesthat
carried simply the name Tollin and that
[also] referred to the sedge family: various
other related species have been grouped together under the same name, each with a
different determination"(Idem).

Our description of the principles underlying taxonomy and nomenclature in folk


biological science has placed considerable
weight on the fundamental nature of
taxonomic ethnobiological categories. This
position is somewhat at variancewith that
taken by Kay (1971) in his importantpaper
on the nature of taxonomy and semantic
contrast. In Kay's view, the notion of absolute category membership is an irrelevant
consideration in the description of taxonomic structure. A brief review of some of
the major points of Kay'spaperas relatedto
the exposition here will be of value.
Kay defines five types of semantic contrast relations which are recognizablein any
taxonomic structure. They are named and
defined as follows:
(1) inclusion contrast exists for any
two taxa if one strictly includes the
other (tree and oak are in inclusion
contrast);
(2) direct contrast exists between any
two taxa which are immediatelyincluded
in the same taxon (oak and maple are in
direct contrast, in that they are immediatelyincludedin tree);
(3) indirect contrast exists between
any two taxa which are neither in direct
contrast nor inclusion contrast via the
two taxa which include them and which
are themselves in direct contrast (post
oak and sugar maple are in indirect contrast via oak and maple);

(4) generic contrast occurs between


any two generictaxa;

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238

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

[75,1973

Itz-tollin
cutting sedge (itz itztli, obsidian)
Popo-tollin
broom sedge (popo popotl, broom)
Tepe-tollin
mountain sedge, brush sedge (tepe tepetl, mountain brush)
Tzon-tollin
hairy sedge (tzon tzontli, hairsome [caballera )
Ix-tollin
eye-medicine sedge (ix ixtli, medicine for eyes)
tollin

Zo-tollin
palm sedge (Zo zoyat/, palm)
Cal-tollin
house sedge (cal calli, house)
Petla-tollin
estera sedge (petla petlatl, estera)
A-tollin
water sedge (a at/, water)
Nacace-tollin
triangular sedge (nacace, corner)

Figure 15. ClassicalAztec terminologyfor sedges.


(5) terminal contrast occurs between
any two taxa neither of which include
additionaltaxa.
The first three types of semanticcontrast
are defined solely in terms of the kinds of
formal taxonomic positions held by any two
particular taxa as indicated by the logical
relation of class inclusion.Terminalcontrast
may be said to be a special case in that the
taxonomic relation of inclusion is negatively
applied, i.e., taxa are said to be in terminal
contrast if they do not include additional
taxa. Only one of the five types of semantic
contrast discussed by Kay is based on absolute category membership,namely, generic
contrast, and this is defined as "that special
relation of contrast which holds between
any two generictaxa" (Kay 1971:878).
We are of the opinion that the varying
types of contrast relations are not all of
equal psychological significance. Furthermore, contrast defined by category membership may be as important, if not more so,
than formal taxonomic contrast. Finally,
there may be justification for positing addi-

tional types of semantic contrast based on


absolutecategory membership.
Eugene Hunn (n.d.) in a study of the
identification of gulls by American bird
watchers, has recently shown that members
of taxa in genericcontrastare identified in a
psychologically unique fashion, one that is
essentially based on instantaneousrecognition of the organisms in question. On the
other hand, tokens of organismswhich are
conceptually classified as members of the
ethnobiological category we have labelled
"specific" are identified by a more formal
processing routine that requiresratherconscious psychologicalassessmentsof contrasting semantic features (cf. also Bulmer and
Tyler 1968:353).
Hunn's research has provided evidence
that the psychological processes used in
making generic identifications differ from
those used in makingspecific identifications.
With further study it seems likely that one
will be able to show psychologicalevidence
for the significance of life form contrast as
well. Terminalcontrast, however, may have

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE


little or no psychological significance in that
the fact that two taxa are terminal is probably never a contrastive feature of relevance
in any natural situation.
Empirically, it is most often the case in
folk taxonomies that taxa of the same contrast set, i.e., taxa in direct contrast, are also
members of the same ethnobiological category. There are several examples where this
is not the case, however, and when this
occurs, the mere fact of formal contrast set
membership apparently becomes irrelevant.
The most common, and to our knowledge
the only empirically documented examples
of taxa of differing taxonomic categories
occurring as members of the same contrast
set is at level one in naturally occurring folk
taxonomies. It will be recalled that level one
comprises taxa which are immediately included in the unique beginner. Kay notes
that "level one is unique in that all taxa at
this level do constitute a single contrast set"
(1971:877). Anderson's data on Cantonese
ethnoichthyology provides an example of
this psychologically aberrant situation. In
Cantonese ethnoichthyology, there are six
major classes of life form taxa which include
the majority of all named marine organisms.
However, there are a number of names for
small groupings of marine animals which are
not included in any of the life form taxa.
These classes, of which horseshoe crab,
starfish, jelly fish, and others are examples,
"form independent, single member sets"
(Anderson 1967:18). As such, they are comparable to the unaffiliated generic taxa such
as bamboo, cactus, fern, etc., found at level
one in Tzeltal botanical taxonomy.
Anderson says that formally such expressions "might be regarded as one the first
level in regard to terminological distinctions" (Idem) contrasting with the life form
terms for fish, decapod crustaceans, etc.
However, he argues that the small, independent taxa are best treated as second-level
taxa and are labelled, in our terminology, by
generic terms. Not only is there nomenclatural evidence in Chinese to suggest that
they are generic, but like most generic
names, they "refer to small, compact groups

239

of organisms" (Ibid.: 18). Anderson's solution, while not formally correct, is of interest as concerns the psychological reality
of ethnobiological categories:
For these reasons they [i.e., the aberrant taxa] seem to contrast with secondlevel rather than first-level terms. In these
cases it is possible that a series of firstlevel terms exists such that these items
are included within them; but no such
terms were elicited. These small, independent, named taxa form a tiny but interesting minority of those found...
They may be roughly compared to the
taxa incertae sedis-fragzoologist's
mentary fossil species and genera of unknown allocation within higher-level taxa
[Ibid.: 18 ].
What Anderson has described is precisely
the situation where one finds taxa of different ethnobiological categories as members of
the same contrast set. When such is the case,
it appears to Anderson (and presumably to
his Hong Kong Boat People) that contrast
set membership is overridden and the relevant psychological contrast becomes that
which is found to hold between members of
an identical ethnobiological category, in this
case, the generic category.
Another ethnobiological description of a
primitive New Guinea society provides evidence for the same kind of ambiguity that
may arise when contrast set members are not
all of equal conceptual (i.e., categorical)
rank. Glick, in a short paper dealing with
Gimi natural science, makes the following
observations:
There are more than twenty [taxonomically defined first level] botanical categories, ranging in size from da 'tree',
with at least two hundred members,
through koi 'ginger', with four, and on
down to several problematical sets containing only two or three members
apiece. At the lower end it becomes
difficult to decide whether one is justified
in calling a pair or trio of closely related
plants a category: does this have the same
taxonomic rank as say, da in Gimi
thought? My answer is, probably not..."
[Glick 1964:274].
While Glick makes no effort to describe
"ethnobotanical taxonomic categories" it

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240

AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST

appears clear that da 'tree' would be analyzed in our terms as a life form taxon and
that koi 'ginger' and other few membered
sets like it are best considered generic taxa.
Some of these generic taxa clearly occur in
the same contrast set with life form taxa,
hence the dilemma suggested in Glick's question: do they "have the same taxonomic
rank as, say, da in Gimi thought"?
Our conclusion is that formal, taxonomically defined semantic contrast-either
inclusion, direct, or indirect-has no psychological significance without knowledge as
well of the ethnobiological category membership of the taxa involved. Taxa of any
category may be in taxonomic contrast-provided the formal conditions are met-but
the psychological processes involved in distinguishing oak and maple or catfish and
perch are quite distinct from those involved
in distinguishing red rose and white rose or
large mouth bass and small mouth bass. To
reject "the notion of absolute category" (Kay
1971:885) in the analysis of taxonomic
structures is logically convenient but should
be re-evaluated if our descriptions are to
have more than formal interest.

CONCLUSIONS
In this article, we have brought together
certain data bearing on the nature of ethnobiological classification and nomenclature.
Some of our more general findings may be
stated as follows:
(1) There are at least five, perhaps six,
taxonomic ethnobiological categories which
appear to be highly general if not universal
in folk biological science. They may be
named as unique beginner, life form, generic,
specific and varietal. A category called "intermediate" is suggested but further data
will be required to establish it firmly. Generally, the category exhibiting the largest
number of taxa is the generic. Generic taxa
mark the most salient conceptual groupings
of organisms in any folk taxonomy and
represent the fundamental units in ethnobiological classification.

[75,1973

(2) The five ethnobiological categories


are arranged hierarchically and taxa assigned
to each rank are mutually exclusive. Taxa of
the same ethnobiological category characteristically, though not invariably, occur at
the same level in any folk taxonomic structure.
(3) The naming of taxa which occur as
members of the ethnobiological categories
can be reduced to a small number of nomenclatural principles which are essentially
identical in all languages. Life form and
generic taxa tend to be labelled by primary
lexemes; specific and varietal taxa tend to be
labelled by secondary lexemes. The unique
beginner is rarely named, but if so, its label
will be a primary lexeme. While recognizing
that nomenclature and category membership
must be analyzed separately, there seems to
be strong evidence that the linguistic structure of a plant or animal name is usually a
good mirror of the taxonomic status of the
category which it represents.' 0

NOTES
1For a discussion of the concepts "taxonomic structure," "taxonomic level," etc.,
the reader is referred to the definitive paper
by Paul Kay (1971).
2 A contrast set has been defined by Kay
(1971) as any set of taxa all of whose
members are immediately included in an
identical superordinate taxon. Thus, pinto
bean, lima bean, string bean, kidney bean,
are members of a contrast set in that each
member of the set is immediately included
in the taxon bean.
3
Kay's comments on an earlier draft of
this paper relating to a concise definition of
productive primary lexemes and secondary
lexemes have been of major importance in
the present formulation.
4The above classification of lexemic
types found in ethnobiological nomenclature
derives in large part from Harold Conklin's
important paper on the nature of folk taxonomies (Conklin 1962). Conklin suggests the
recognition of two basic lexemic types,
unitary and composite. One of the defining
features of composite lexemes is that they
include constituents which designate "categories superordinate to those designated by
the forms in question" (1962:122). As such,

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Berlin et al. ] FOLK BIOLOGY: CLASSIFICATION AND NOMENCLATURE

241

both tulip-tree and jack oak are composite


Sciences, and the Language-Behavior Reexpressions in that both, as we have seen, search Laboratory, University of California,
satisfy this condition. We find it theoretical- Berkeley. For a general statement conly advantageous and empirically justified to cerning the possible implications of the findrecognize that tulip-tree and jack oak are ings presented here for modern western bioonly superficially similar linguistically and systematics, see Raven, Berlin, and Breedthat they may be readily distinguished, as we love (1971).
have shown, as primary productive and
secondary lexemes respectively.
sA terminal taxon is one which includes
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